Chesney Hawkes at Chi

He really is the one and only. We can't wait to see the Prince of Pop...

Music feature
Music feature

There’s a slightly rubbish game you may have played that involves eating as many crackers as you can without taking a drink. It’s pretty difficult (two crackers in and your mouth is drier than the Arabian desert), but we think we’ve found a tougher alternative. How long can you talk to UK former pop sensation Chesney Hawkes without mentioning his 1991 hit single, ‘The One And Only’?

As it turns out, we’re not terribly great at this one either, managing a paltry 55 seconds. After the cursory ‘how are you?’ (fine), ‘how are the kids?’ (he has three; they’re at school), and ‘will this be your first time in Dubai?’ (yes), we find ourselves hurtling straight towards wipeout. ‘So, many people in Dubai might know you for one particular song…’

‘Which song is that, then?’ Ooh, you cheeky scamp, Chesney – you know which song we’re talking about. The power-chord-heavy anthem propelled a fresh-faced 19-year-old Mr Hawkes, complete with bouffant blonde locks and well-placed mole, towards pop stardom almost two decades ago. The hands-in-the-air karaoke classic has subsequently found itself jostling for space on nostalgia-fuelled compilation albums and
at retro club nights the world over.

‘Yeah, it was a really crazy time back then,’ reminisces Chesney from his home in Surrey in the UK. He’s now 38, happily married and, judging by the photographs, sports a distinctly less ludicrous barnet. ‘It was every young boy’s dream, being a pop star, touring the world, playing arenas.’

‘The One and Only’, written and produced by 1980s chart stalwart Nik Kershaw, spent five weeks at number one in the UK, becoming the 20th most successful song of the decade. Given that this was in an era long before Simon Cowell had taken the music industry hostage with his army of identikit disposable pop-bots, it was a big deal at the time.

Sadly, with a rather forgettable follow-up single (‘I’m a Man Not a Boy’, anyone?) and an album that barely pestered the charts, the cumbersome ‘one-hit wonder’ label soon stuck (not helped by the title of his hit). The arenas became small clubs and Chesney, still touring with various new numbers and albums, turned into a bit of an angry young man, desperate to shake off the cheesy shackles of his biggest hit. ‘For quite a long time I was a bit of a shoe-gazer, facing my amplifier, turning it up to 11 and sticking my fingers up at the crowds who were asking for ‘The One and Only’, stuff like that.’

Sure, the one-hit wonder tag is bound to grate (although Chesney says he isn’t bitter any more), but ‘The One and Only’ is still – incredibly – making money. Recently it made an appearance as a wake-up alarm in
sci-fi film Moon, a cleverly ironic choice given the story’s cloning twist (sorry for the spoiler, folks).

And the song itself, instantly recognisable with its dramatic ‘… I AMMMMM’ intro, has become something of a cult student favourite, despite now being older than most of the undergraduates to which it appeals. ‘I played it at a university ball the other day,’ admits Chesney, whose current acoustic tour has seen him perform across various English holiday resorts and university student unions. ‘I shouted out, “Who was born in 1991?’’ and all the hands went up, so I shouted, “And so was this song!’’’

‘The One and Only’ may be Chesney’s cash cow, but over the past decade he’s become more of a songwriter for others, lending his compositions to acts as broad as Tricky, Tears for Fears and Caprice, not to mention former UK popsters Hear’Say and A1. ‘I try to steer clear of speed metal,’ he says, admitting that guitar-based pop is his comfort zone.

And it’s guitar-based pop we’re likely to hear on June 10 when Chesney plugs in his amp at Chi, complete with his brother on drums. And what of the setlist? Can we expect scowls if we ask for that song? ‘Ah, that
was my angry phase,’ he concludes. ‘I’m back to being friends with ‘The One and Only’ now.’

Chesney Hawkes plays Chi, June 11, Dhs100.

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